There are many reasons why ethnic minorities are under-represented in the workplace and particularly in management and senior management positions. Most ultimately boil down to forms of discrimination which range from overt racism to more subtle and harder to detect forms of bias.
It is vital that business leaders understand the barriers ethnic minorities face and take decisive steps to reduce and remove these barriers in their own workplaces. The business case has never been clearer: by 2051, one in five people in the UK will be from an ethnic minority background, representing a scale of consumer spending and political voting power that business and government alike cannot afford to ignore.
We have identified 5 key areas that responsible employers should urgently look at:
Unpaid internships and lack of opportunity
Unpaid or low paid internships penalise those without the means to support themselves for months at a time – and with no job guaranteed at the end, are even riskier for those without financial backing from family. Internships are often found through family connections. The children of white middle class parents benefit the most from this system. Sectors which rely heavily on interns are also those with some of the lowest levels of ethnic minority representation. Businesses can make a huge difference by paying interns at least the living wage and by making the intern recruitment process open, competitive and transparent.
Discrimination in the recruitment process
Our own benchmarking data shows that ethnic minority candidates are less likely than white candidates to progress through each stage of the recruitment process. Research has shown that although we can firmly believe we are judging people on their ability alone,this is often not the case. In a classic experiment, blind auditions were conducted for positions in an orchestra. Success rates of women increased substantially. Of course, before the experiment, those deciding who to hire were adamant that they were selecting purely on playing ability.
There are various actions employers can take to reduce bias including: removing names from application forms, providing better training to interviewers, setting clearer criteria for assessing candidates and using more diverse employees on their recruitment and interview panels. Our benchmark asks companies detailed questions about the steps they are taking.
Informal mentoring that benefits white males
Research and anecdotal evidence has shown the importance of mentoring on career progression. Some studies have also suggested ethnic minority employees are less likely to be mentored than their white peers.
Many mentoring relationships start organically: in our experience from talking to senior leaders, we have found that the relationships are more likely to occur between people of the same gender and ethnicity. The danger of this is obvious: a senior leadership dominated by one group, typically white males, will be unconsciously selecting younger versions of themselves as future replacements. Companies can take steps to expand mentoring to a wider range of employees in order to mitigate against this.
Performance appraisals and meritocracy as a belief system
Our benchmarking data shows that ethnic minority employees are less likely than white employees to be rated in the top appraisal performance categories. Although little research directly deals with the reasons, ethnic minority employees may be suffering the same types of discrimination during assessment of their performance as when going through the recruitment process. Companies must firstly identify if this is an issue in their organisation and if so take steps to remedy the situation.
We suggest organisations should look at their appraisal process from various perspectives: the method by which objectives are set, the training given to line managers, criteria used to define performance levels and the consistency of how these are applied. We have also found from conversations with companies we work with that employers can become so enamoured with the idea that they are a meritocracy that they refuse to scrutinise their own processes and behaviours. This is the same trap that the orchestra leaders fell into and should act as a warning.
Double discrimination – being a women and an ethnic minority
Our recently published 28-40 research uncovered very high levels of discrimination for women in the workplace. But some diverse women appeared to suffer a double penalty. The statistics speak for themselves: 69% of Black/ African/ Caribbean / Black British women reported experiencing bullying or harassment – 32% higher than the self-reported rates for white women. Through our benchmark we encourage employees to establish zero tolerance policies for bullying and harassment, to carefully monitor numbers of incidents and to invest time, energy and effort into fostering an inclusive culture that works for all staff.